No. 8 Kentucky overcame a 3-point halftime deficit and outscored Kansas by double digits in the second half of Saturday's marquee SEC/Big 12 Challenge game to score a 71-63 win over the ninth-ranked Jayhawks.
Kansas (16-4) started fast and Kentucky (16-3) started slow, which led to KU building a double digit lead early on in the first half. But as the Wildcats struggled to create offense, veteran Reid Travis came alive and willed his team to wake up, grabbing layups, smashing dunks and giving UK life it lacked but so desperately needed.
In the second half it was back-and-forth, with Kansas riding Dedric Lawson to a tussle. But the Jayhawks didn't get much help elsewhere, as senior Lagerald Vick, who finished with 10 points, was mostly quiet down the stretch. PJ Washington led the Wildcats with 20 points and Reid Travis, Keldon Johnson and Ashton Hagans finished in double figures.
All the more impressive for Kentucky is that it did not shoot the ball particularly well. Kansas outshot the Wildcats from deep, making 9-of-23 attempts to Kentucky's 4-of-18 from 3-point range, but UK manhandled its way to a win. It outrebounded the Jayhawks 50-33, outscored them in the paint 38-20, and collected a bonus 18 points off second-chance opportunities that ultimately provided the difference in the game.
The game itself was a bit of a microcosm of the season -- for both programs. Kansas began its season by winning 10-straight and looking every bit the caliber of its preseason No. 1 billing. The Jayhawks have faded since, however, losing four of their last 10. An injury to big man Udoka Azubuike, the lack of production from the center position, and lack of consistent 3-point shooting has caught up to Bill Self's squad.
Kentucky has taken quite an opposite path, much like it did on Saturday. It started slow -- losing to Duke to open the season and getting off to a 10-3 start overall -- but has since surged. It has now won six straight on the season dating back to Jan. 8, and whatever proverbial corner people often reference when talking about teams improving has seemingly been turned for John Calipari's Kentucky team. We suspected as much this past week with wins over ranked Auburn and ranked Mississippi State, but a decisive victory over KU could prove to be an inflection point of when things started trending upwards.
"We are getting better," Calipari said. "We're taking that gradual climb."
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